The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

The independent newspaper of the University of Iowa community since 1868

The Daily Iowan

Iowa New Play Festival to showcase more than a dozen new scripts from the Iowa Playwrights’ Workshop

In the past four days, seven plays have taken the stage (or have been read) in the Theater Building. The original works, part of the Iowa New Play Festival, were written by University of Iowa playwrights.

The New Play Festival will continue today through Saturday with The Aleph Complex at 5:30 and 9 p.m. today in the Theater Building’s Theater B and The Aurora Project at 5:30 and 9 p.m. Saturday in Thayer Theater. There will also be readings of new works at 2 p.m. today (Undergraduate Playwriting Workshop, 172 Theater Building) and 2 p.m. Friday (Koreans Eat Dog, by Sarah Cho, 172 Theater Building) and 5:30 p.m. Friday (Someday, by Basil Kreimendahl, 172 Theater Building).

Deborah Yarchun focused her show, The Aleph Complex, on the character Nicky and her journey home to help her mother and their relationship. She touched on several other themes as well.

“It’s also a play that memorializes Borders bookstore,” she said. “It’s set, in part, at the last Borders Bookstore on the planet. The closing of Borders signaled, for me, a turning point in our history. It marked a further movement toward a computer-techno-dominated world where not only can we read works of literature on our Kindles, but if one wanted, we could opt to never leave our apartment.”

It seems she and Bella Poynton, the playwright of The Aurora Project, were sharing brain waves when writing their scripts. Poynton’s work, a science-fiction piece focusing on Constantine the cyborg and his genetically modified human companion, is quite different, but the shows share similar themes.

“The play is about time and how time passes and the use of technology and how that is going to influence our future,” Poynton said.

Once both scripts were written, they moved onto the reading stages at different venues. The readings are just what the name would suggest: Actors read the roles, and the audience is able to hear the script and imagine how the show would be produced.

“Both [readings and stagings] are absolutely essential in the life of a play,” Poynton said. “A good reading helps you rewrite, and it can help to get a play to a place where it’s ready for a production.”

Yarchun felt similarly about going through readings and was grateful for the chance to stage her work in the Festival.

“At the point in the process I was at with The Aleph Complex, a production was ideal because it’s an extremely visual and aural show,” she said. “This production has allowed me to see how my play functions, not just on the page, but with lights, sounds, costumes, and shadow puppets.”

As the two plays moved into stage productions, the playwrights’ jobs were still not finished.

“When the play is new, it is essential that the playwright be present,” Poynton said. “You have to be on the same page as your director.” Yarchun agrees.

“It’s extremely useful to be present as my show is staged and to collaborate with a cast, a director, and an artistic team,” she said. “In the rehearsal room, as a playwright, I primarily listen. As a playwright, I learn a lot from the questions that arise and also from acting, directorial, and design ideas and decisions, because they all come from interpreting my script. Collaborating sheds light on what’s working in the play, what needs further clarification, and what mysteries are worth keeping alive.”

However, at a certain point, the playwrights said, they must step back and let the directors take control. Having evolving scripts posed some difficulties for the directors, but they were open and optimistic about the process, loving the chance to work with new plays.

“New works are in constant flux. Having the playwright there allows for the show to grow in new ways,” said Rachel Korach Howell, the director of The Aurora Project. “Things are often changing in the script, which can make it a challenge for the director and actors at times, but everyone enjoys having a place in this version of the play. We helped each other find the truth in its current form.”

Megan Rivas, the director of The Aleph Complex, has a similar belief.

“When I have the chance to direct a new play, I relish having the writer present to offer thoughts and answer questions,” she said. “Since this festival exists to support and serve the playwrights, I made a deal with [Yarchun] that she could make any changes to the script she wanted or make no changes at all. I would just direct the play in whatever form she put it in front of me, day by day.”

Once the script was completed, the directors still had to stage the works with limited rehearsal time and only a day to set up their venue.

The Aleph Complex is full of spectacle, so figuring out the staging with the actors and stage manager was a long and careful process,” Rivas said. “We definitely used all the rehearsal time available to us, and it was just enough.”

Howell also faced the unique prospect of staging a science-fiction play, something not usually seen in the theater.

“To some, sci-fi is a scary genre to attempt for the stage,” she said. “There are aliens, long spans of time, androids, and paintings made from starlight. But, above all, the themes are very human. This show is unique, because it can take all these traditionally sci-fi elements yet house them within a story any audience member can feel intimately connected to. It’s not just for sci-fi fans. It’s for everyone.”


The Aurora Project


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